AUSTRALIA’S plan for plain cigarette packaging has drawn fire from a bloc of poor countries, many of them reliant on money from growing tobacco.
The Dominican Republic has led a push backed by eight countries at a meeting of the World Trade Organisation in Geneva, saying it had ”serious and grave concerns” that the plain packs would hurt tobacco producers in small and vulnerable economies.
An official WTO report of proceedings said ”support or sympathy” for the Dominican Republic argument came from Honduras, Nicaragua, Ukraine, the Philippines, Zambia, Mexico, Cuba and Ecuador.
New Zealand, Uruguay and Norway said Australia’s move was justified. India did not comment on the law specifically but said studies showed that plain packaging did reduce smoking.
The World Health Organisation also effectively supported the Australian stance by providing information on its convention on tobacco control, which supports plain packs.
The Dominican representative expressed arguments also used by tobacco companies in Australia that the move would fail to reduce smoking.
The lower costs of the packaging and competition on price would make cigarettes cheaper and encourage higher consumption, the Dominican Republic said. It would also make counterfeiting easier, it said. But it did recognise the right of countries to protect public health.
Trade Minister Craig Emerson yesterday defended the Australian move in the face of the protests at the WTO.
”The Gillard government’s plain packaging legislation is not anti-trade, it’s anti-cancer,” he said. ”It’s in the public health interests of the Australian people and the Gillard government will never give up Australia’s sovereign right to look after the health of its people.”
Australia said in its submission it would introduce the measure in a way that complied with its international obligations.
It was revealed last month that Malaysia had been targeted by Peter Allgeier, a former US ambassador to the WTO, to oppose the Australian move.